BECo — the social enterprise that wants employers to steal its staff

Divine chocolate. Belu water. The Big Issue. A comparatively small number of social enterprises are operating at the scale of national manufacturers.

And note that I do call them manufacturers and not ‘brands’ — I mean companies that make things, not brands that pursue maximum profit by outsourcing production to wherever conditions are worst and costs cheapest.

It takes a long time and a lot of marketing resources to reach the scale and capacity required to achieve national recognition. It takes even greater effort and resolve to do this ethically — by which I mean trading for social purpose rather than in whatever way will most enrich shareholders.

I was prompted to think about this this morning by a discussion about ethical, cruelty-free toiletries and I realised that I had come across a name that was new to me: BECo soaps.

In fact, BECo — it stands for Better Considered — is the new trading name for the soaps and toiletries produced by the disability charity and social firm, Clarity & Co, which traces its roots back to 1854. I was familiar with it under its old trading name of The Soap Company, but last year saw a major ‘rebranding’ (there’s no way round the term, I suppose) and BECo now has plans to be the new household name in ethical, cruelty-free toiletries.

80% of BECo’s staff have physical, sensory or other disabilities that disadvantage them in the conventional labour market. There are a million more people with disabilities that the company would like to employ — but unless it sells an immensely greater volume of soap, it can’t. And this is why its website encourages readers to ‘steal our staff‘. That’s right: if you’re an employer and you see someone on the BECo website you’d like to employ, you can email the company with a job offer and they’ll pass it on to the staff member concerned.

All BECo products — organic soap and shampoo bars, liquid hand-wash and other products to come — are made in the UK and create employment for people with disabilities. They are stocked by Boots, the Co-op, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the online Ethical Superstore.

And moreover they are sensibly priced. (I do get sick of seeing products — and social enterprises are not always exempt from this — that are so expensive that their manufacturers appear oblivious both to their own privilege and to real-world financial hardship.) 

The dog-eat-dog scramble of social media ‘influencers’ to ‘work with brands’ is frankly disgusting but here is an aim truly worthy of a bit of ‘influencing’: if BECo products were in every bathroom in the UK, another 45,000 employment opportunities for people with disabilities would be created.

With scrupulous hygiene a key defence against the transmission of Covid-19, surely this is a moment of opportunity.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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